Twenty years later, I began to experience hearing problems that puzzled me because I could still hear people talking, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I thought deafness was a problem with volume, not comprehension. At the time, I was also dealing with undiagnosed and untreated chronic pain, a new job in a noisy environment, the care of my elderly mother, and some other problems. I gave the pain top priority (and who wouldn’t?). Eventually I had another hearing test and wasn’t surprised to learn about the hearing loss. I didn’t have enough money to buy hearing aids at the time, which was frustrating, but at least I knew I wasn’t losing my sometimes tenuous grip on my mind. I’ve had hearing aids for 2 years now and although they do help, neither do they correct my hearing the way eyeglasses correct vision.
Recently the header for a newspaper ad for a local hearing aid store proclaimed, “Use it or Lose it!” This was followed by:
§ Communication occurs in the brain.
§ When we lose our ability to hear, the ear stops sending needed information to our brain, affecting the ability to understand what is being said.
§ “Auditory Deprivation” can impair the way the brain processes sound.
§ In most cases the solution is hearing aids; sending the correct information to the brain, protecting it from atrophy.
I don’t know how scientifically true any of that is, but it makes some sense to me, and it makes me wonder if 20 years of living without hearing aids caused some permanent damage in my brain. I might use a less discouraging term for this damage than “atrophy”. I know that my hearing loss has affected my relationships with other people, whose speech was so hard for me to hear and understand clearly, and who couldn’t understand why I seemed to ignore so much of what they said to me. I don’t think my poor hearing hindered my business career (though I could be wrong about that), partly because I spent several decades traveling overseas in order to work with associates whose language I didn’t speak, so that no one expected me to understand what they were saying and I was usually accompanied by an English-speaking associate who took pains to translate clearly.
Just the official term for my kind of deafness – sensory neural – makes me wonder if the chronic pain I experience has also impaired my brain’s ability to process and interpret physical sensation. That could explain why even very subtle or gentle touch can feel like a bodily assault nowadays.